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Sfera Satellite System Gets Green Light

Sfera
Sfera Satellite System. Image by RSS news

Dmitry Rogozin, General Director of the Roscosmos State Corporation, has announced that a decision has been made to start the deployment of the Sfera (‘Sphere’) satellite system in 2022 using the Angara A5 heavy-lift launch vehicle. There are plans to launch 640 small satellites to provide comprehensive services for communication, navigation and Earth remote sensing.

On July 18, a special meeting of the new administration of Roscosmos with the president Vladimir Putin took place in the Kremlin. Vladimir Putin approved the creation of a federal targeted program for the development of the Sfera system, stating that ‘the interest in this project is shown by both Russian and foreign business, and its implementation should be fully supported’. The cost of the project was not disclosed. Although the estimated cost of one of the Sfera’s components, the Efir system, is around $4.8 billion, which was to be sought from extrabudgetary sources. The creation of the federal targeted program for the development of this project means that the Sfera program will be undertaken not only through the search for telecommunications companies and private investors (which have to be persuaded to invest in the project), but also by the budget injections.

For the first time the Sfera project became known during the press stakeout of Vladimir Putin on June 7. Subsequently, Andrey Tyulin, Director General of Joint Stock Company “Russian Space Systems”, said that the new program was developed on the basis of the Efir satellite communication system, developed by his company. The previous administration of Roscosmos presented the Efir project at the May conference in Moscow. According to the base scenario, it was proposed to deploy a system of 288 satellites to an operating altitude of 870 km, which would ensure ‘complete coverage of the Earth’s surface’. The Efir system was considered as a ‘space data bus’ designed to provide satellite telephone line services, the Internet, data from sensors and the Internet of things, unmanned vehicles, etc., and its competitors were called OneWeb and SpaceX. The project was to be developed by a consortium with the participation of Roscosmos (Russian Space Systems and Rocket and Space Corporation Energia), as well as the State Corporation ‘Bank for Development and Foreign Economic Affairs (Vnesheconombank)’, which might partially finance the project. The project is estimated at about 300 billion rubles until 2025.

The Kremlin was positive about the project, but Presidential Assistant in Economic Affairs Andrey Belousov stated that with the implementation deadline by 2025, Efir cannot count on any share in the market. Roscosmos analyzed the situation and decided to merge several projects into one, which was named the Sfera project.

Mr. Rogozin evaluates the order for the launch of satellites into orbit on at least 25 Angara-A5 launch vehicles. The choice of the launch vehicle is not accidental: it is manufactured by the Khrunichev State Research and Production Space Center, which remains in dire straits financially, with the company’s debts estimated to be $1.5 billion. The new order will provide a guaranteed long-term workload for the Omsk Production Association Polyot, where universal rocket modules for the Angara launch vehicle are to be assembled, allowing a fast closedown of the Proton manufacturing plant in Moscow. Therefore, Mr. Rogozin expects to implement his plan to close the Moscow Khrunichev Space Center production by 2021, concentrating on the Omsk enterprise, which should help to solve the Khrunichev Space Center financial problems.

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